All Scholars

NORDEN, Eduard

  • Image
  • Date of Birth: September 21, 1868
  • Born City: Emden
  • Born State/Country: Germany
  • Parents: Dr. Carl & Rosa HamburgerN.
  • Date of Death: July 13, 1941
  • Death City: Zurich
  • Death State/Country: Switzerland
  • Education: Studied classical, Germanic, and Romance philology, Bonn & Berlin, 1886-1890; Ph.D. Bonn, 1891; habil. Strasbourg, 1892.
  • Dissertation:

    “In Varronis saturas Menippeas observationes selectae.” (Bonn, 1891)

  • Professional Experience:

    Assistant, Strasbourg, 1891; prof. extra., Greifswald, 1893-5; ordinarius, 11895—9; dean of philosophical faculty, 1898-9; ordinarius, Breslau, 1899-1906; ordinarius, Berlin, 1927-39; memb. Berlin Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1913. 

  • Publications:


    Die antike Kunstprosa vom VI. Jahrhundert v. Chr. bis in die Zeit der Renaissance, 2 vols. (Leipzig and Berlin, 1898; 3d printing 1915); P. Vergilius Maro: Aeneis Buch VI Erklärt (Leipzig, 1903; 4th ed. Stuttgart, 1957); Die lateinische Literatur im Übergang vom Altertum zum Mittelalter, in Die Kultur der Gegenwart. Vol. 1 (Leipzig and Berlin, 1905, 374-411; 3d ed. enlarged 1912)Die römische Literatur, in Einleitung in die Altertumswissenschaft. Vol. 1 (Leipzig, 1910);  Die römische Literatur. Mit Anh.: Die lateinische Literatur im Übergang vom AItertum zum Mittelalter (s.o.). 6th ed. enlarged (Leipzig, 1961); Agnostos Theos. Untersuchungen zur Formengeschichte religiöser Rede (Leipzig and Berlin, 1913); Ennius und Vergilius. Kriegsbilder aus Roms großer Zeit (Leipzig and Berlin, 1915); Die Geburt des Kindes. Geschichte einer religiösen Idee (Leipzig and Berlin, 1924; 3d printing 1958); Alt-Germanien, Volker- und namensgeschichtliche Untersuchungen (Leipzig and Berlin, 1934); Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern (Lund and Leipzig, 1939).

    Articles (Collected)

    Kleine Schriften zum klassischen Altertum, ed. B. Kytzler (Berlin, 1966).

  • Notes:

    When visiting Harvard University on the occasion of its tercentenary celebration in 1936, Eduard Norden was greeted by the University’s President, James B. Conant, who conferred upon him an honorary doctorate, as “the most famous Latinist in the world.” When Norden died only five years later, the leading Latinist had lost his library and his home, his professorship and his citizenship. The bitterness of exile broke his heart. He was forced to leave Berlin and Germany in 1939 for no other reason than having been born a Jew—no matter that he had been baptized a Protestant more than half a century earlier at the age of seventeen on 13 December 1885. In these dark years it no longer mattered that he had directed more than fifty dissertations, had served his University as Rektor and in many other positions, nor that he had broken the ground in a field that is still discussed in his terms, after the Antike Kunstprosa. That he had written the model for all Latin commentaries in the twentieth century, Aeneis VI, was now forgotten; even his two books on old Germania could not save their author from the hate of an irrational persecution.

    Norden came from the north of Germany. He was born in Emden as the child of a medical doctor, Geheimer Sanitätsrat Dr. Carl Norden, and his wife Rosa, née Hamburger and intended early to become a doctor. All his life long he felt lasting ties with his home province. In 1933 he called his forthcoming book on old Germania “a testimony of a man of Frisian origin for his German native country.” In a similar way, he felt attached to his alma mater in Bonn and to his teacher Franz Bücheler (1837-1908), to whom he dedicated in 1898 his first great book, the Antike Kunstprosa, and in 1939 his last work, Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern. At the end of the preface to Kunstprosa, Norden explains why he feels that his time in Bonn will be sacred to him for all his life: “That Latin literature is the product of the Greek, that the two literatures lack chronological limits, that the ancient authors have to be felt to be understood—these are the ideas with which we were educated at Bonn, where I enjoyed the greatest years of my life.” In a similar way, Norden analyzed the influence of Bücheler on him and his work in his inaugural speech at the Berlin Academy in 1913, naming also Hermann Usener (1834-1905) and Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) as his most important teachers and models. At Berlin he was influenced by Hermann Diels (1848-1922) and Johannes Vahlen (1830-1911). 

    Norden was only twenty-three years old when in 1891 he submitted his dissertation. How the difficult text of Varrofascinated him through all his years is documented in the preface to Priesterbücher: “Since that time I have never ceased to pay attention to the text . . . the terror that once seized the youth vibrates still in the old man and may have helped him—utinam quidem—to understand the verses rightly.”

    With the streams of Norden’s important publications came the sequence of calls to more and more important universities: 1895 to Greifswald, 1899 to Breslau, 1906 to Berlin. This cursus honorum was completed in 1913 with membership in the Berlin Akademie der Wissenschaften. One may add the Rektorat already mentioned, participation in the work of the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, membership in the directorium of the Deutsches Archaologisches Institut. But it was his contributions to classical scholarship more than such honors as these that made Norden famous and influential.

    Die Antike Kunstprosa covers in about 1,000 pages almost 2,000 years of literary history, “from the VI. century B.C. to the time of the Renaissance,” as the subtitle explains. This breathtaking survey examines theory and praxis in Greek and Roman, pagan and Christian, classical, medieval, and humanistic rhetoric. It is still, today, the basic book about the art of eloquence, its means and methods. Despite its enormous size, the book is not meant as a handbook to consult here and there; rather, it is conceived as a work to be read in its entirety. “If someone would read what I have to say about Thucydides, Plato, Cicero, Seneca or Tacitus without connection to the pertinent theory discussed before, he would not understand the position which I give them in the course of the development,” explains the preface. Even if these directions were more often than not neglected, the influence of Norden’s history of style in antiquity and later ages can hardly be overestimated. The book has remained the standard investigation and the foundation for all similar undertakings in this century.

    “Virgilstudien” were published as early as 1893. A decade later Norden brought out his masterpiece, the great commentary on the sixth book of the Aeneid, again a model for all comparable undertakings in the twentieth century. All aspects of the philological treatment that an important text might receive are masterly displayed here in about 500 pages. These elucidations are not lost in the context but are pointed out to readers and users alike in the famous Register, including “Topics” (from “Agonistik” to “Zauberliteratur”), “Mythology, Religion, Philosophy” (from “Aber- glaube” to “Wintersonnenwende”), “Grammar and Lexicography,” “Metre and Prosody,” “Rhetoric,” and finally, an index of passages. This plain enumeration might already make clear what an enormous amount of learning is condensed in these pages. Perhaps more characteristic is another feature: Norden prints next to his Latin text a German translation, which, with the help of an often-changing rhythm, aims atconveying to the modern reader the flow of the original hexameter. But the most important point was expressed by the aged Mommsen, as Hermann Diels tells us: “A few days before his end I found him bent over your Virgil commentary looking at the lines with his half blind eyes. ‘Oh yes, the youth,’ he sighed, ‘they have a better stand. What we old ones have tried in vain, this they handle with courage and with excellence: the religious question’.”

    Indeed, Mommsen’s dictum is the best evaluation of Norden’s achievements. It is the “philology of religion,” quoted by Norden as A. D. Nock’s (1902-63) definition, to which he confessed himself with all his strength.

    This holds true for two other great works also. Die Geburt des Kindes treats in 171 pages only sixty-three Latin verses: the fourth Eclogue of Virgil. The subtitle, “History of a Religious Idea” indicates that this is not so much a running commentary (as his Aeneis VI) but rather a general introduction to one of the most disputed, most difficult—and most beautiful—poems of the Latin language. Perhaps one should better say: a general introduction to the world of this poem, its thoughts, themes, and traditions. They comprise “Egyptian theologoumena” as well as “gospel criticism.” And they must be seen in connection with Norden’s book published in 1913, eleven years earlier, under the title Agnostos Theos. Here the subtitle is “Investigations concerning the History of Religious Speech.” It is easy to see that the two main fields of Norden’s interest, history of rhetorical forms and patterns of religious ideas, are combined here in an extraordinary sequence of interpretations and elucidations. The author brings into comparison Hellenica (Horace’s ode for Messala), Judaica (including Babyloniaca and Egyptiaca for the origin of certain stylistic forms) and Christiana. He sets out to explain the twenty-one lines of Acts 17 that give the famous Areopagus speech of Paul in order “to find out first, what is the material in thoughts and forms that the author has taken over, and second, how has he adapted this material to a certain situation.”

    It is not difficult to see the themes and topics to which Norden dedicated his main interests and his major works. On the one side, there is his restless search for what he, following Michelangelo, calls the “immortale forma”: the figures of speech and thought; on the other side, there is his deep dedication to religious questions: it is certainly a meaningful day when he dates the second edition of Geburt with “Christmas 1930”; he also asserts in the preface to Agnostos Theos that this “is a work on which I certainly did not work with my "intellect only.” It should not be forgotten that it was Virgil—the deeply religious poet—to whose works Norden turned in his two great books on Aeneid 6 and Eclogue 4 and also in more than half a dozen other minor works (Kleine Schriften: 358-532; Hermes 28 (1893 ) 360-406 and 501-521), to which one may add Ennius und Vergilius. Kriegsbilder aus Roms großter Zeit (Leipzig; Berlin, 1915). And to name a last field: two investigations treat problems connected with the early history of Germany. Die germanische Urgeschichte in Tacitus Germania (1920) analyzes the style of Tacitus, thus explaining the relation of traditional topoi to reality in this work. Alt-Germanien. Volker- und namensgeschichtliche Untersuchungen (1934) deals with a number of special questions; Heinz Haffter’s bon mot rightly says it should be entitled Alt-Germanien, AIt-Gallien, Alt-ltalien.

    In his study “Lessing als klassischer Philologe,” Norden enumerates the prerequisites, the items of “Philologischer Hausrat” that he finds in the great German poet of the age of Enlightenment—we may safely call them his own philological creed. He begins with “the solid knowledge of both the ancient languages,” he adds “precision” and “sensitivity for stylistic nuances” (“Stilgefühl”) and ends with “the gift to see problems and the dedicated endeavour to solve them.” And as a corollary: “Without a more or less considerable library one cannot even think of working in the humanities (“Geisteswissenschaften”).”

    To complete this list of “philologischer Hausrat”: In his foreword to a new edition of Usener’s Götternamen, Norden explains that he counts among the strongest impressions during his time as a student Usener’s inexorable search for truth, which led this professor to confess in front of his students that he felt compelled to give up his former positions on certain questions. Such a modesty was shared by Norden. It might be significant that he insisted on avoiding exclamation marks but recommended the use of question marks, “the truly scientific punctuation.” This information tallies with his soft voice in private conversations, a certain shyness, which disappeared during his lectures: “Again and again I had the impression that each of his lecture classes, setting aside the value of its information, presented itself as a perfect rhetorical performance constructed carefully to the last detail.”

    The center of his teaching was thus defined by Werner Jaeger (1888-1961): “The experience of form was the first; the second step the attempt to support this newly awakening sense by the use of observation and parallels.”

    It was certainly not overly pretentious when Norden was hailed at Harvard as the most famous Latinist in the world. In his generation, during the first half of this century, there was indeed no greater scholar in Latin studies than he. The development of ancient style and rhetoric is still today seen with his eyes, understood along his lines as pointed out in Kunstprosa. The comprehension of Virgil in this century is based on his commentaries and analyses. The “philology of religion” was inaugurated by him and carried on by many others. Among his students, such names appear as Werner Hardtke (1907-93) and F. W. Lenz(1896-1969), Erich Pertsch (b. 1905), the lexicographer, and Alfred Kurfess, the Sallust editor. All his great books have been reprinted in the second half of this century; they will certainly remain standard works well into the future.

  • Sources:


    B. Kytzler, in Norden’s Kleine Schriften zum klassischen Altertum (Berlin, 1966) 683-90 (Includes a list of dissertations directed by Norden.).


    W. Abel, Gymnasium 91 (1984) 449-84; M. Dessoir, Buch der Erinnerung (Stuttgart, 1946) 183-7; H. Haffter, “Eduard Norden,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, no. 3897 (September 1963) 29 = Maia 17 (1965) 241-247 (Italian version); B. Kytzler, Praefatio to Kleine Schriften, v-ix; ------, “Eduard Norden.” Berliner Lebensbilder Geisteswissenschafder (Berlin, 1989327-42; F.W. Lenz, A & A 7 (1958) 159-71 ( Cf. W. Theiler, Gnomon 31 (1960) 390-1); ------, “Eduard Nordens Leistung für die Altertumswissenschaft,” Das Altertum (1960) 245-54.


    W. Abel, W. Gymnasium 92 (1985) 526-32; B. Kytzler (see above); E. Mensching, in Latein und Griechisch in Berlin = Mitteilungsblatt des Landes Verban- des Berlin im Deutschen Altphilobgenverband (DAV) 27 (1983) 54-56; 29 (1985) 88; 31 (1987) 117-128; O. Skutsch, “Wilamowitz an Norden über dessen ‘Ennius und Vergilius’,” A & A 29 (1983) 90-94.

  • Author: Bernard P.P. Kytzler